Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories *

Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories *

Freedom in the World 2006

2006 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

The Palestinian Authority-administered territories' civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5, and its status from Not Free to Partly Free, due to an improved civil liberties environment that followed the death of Yasser Arafat and facilitated the success of relatively competitive and honest elections, along with the enhanced freedom of movement that followed Israel's abandonment of settlements in the Gaza Strip.


Palestinians faced a year of contrasting developments in 2005. The first elections in nine years ushered in a new president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Israel's pullout from Gaza and parts of the West Bank led to greater freedom and more areas under PA jurisdiction. However, internecine violence flared throughout the year, and armed militant groups seriously challenged the new PA leadership. After Mahmoud Abbas was elected president, succeeding the late Yasser Arafat, Abbas declared a ceasefire with Israel and faced intense pressure to deliver on jobs, public order, and security.

In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel came to occupy Sinai, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Israel annexed Jerusalem's Old City and East Jerusalem in 1967 and the Golan Heights in 1981. In what became known as the intifada (uprising), Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza began attacking mainly targets of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1987 to protest Israeli rule. A series of secret negotiations between Israel and Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) conducted in Oslo, Norway, produced an agreement in September 1993. Premised on the land-for-peace formula articulated in UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967, the Declaration of Principles provided for Israeli troop withdrawals and gradual Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for an end to Palestinian terrorism and for recognition of Israel.

At the U.S. presidential retreat, Camp David, in July 2000 and at Taba, Egypt, in the fall and in early 2001, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and U.S. president Bill Clinton engaged the Palestinian leadership in the most far-reaching negotiations ever. For the first time, Israel discussed compromise solutions on Jerusalem, agreeing to some form of Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem and Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City. Israel also offered all of the Gaza Strip and more than 95 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians. Arafat, however, rejected the offers. Some analysts have suggested that Arafat balked over Jewish claims to Jerusalem and Israel's refusal to recognize a "right of return," which would in principle allow Palestinian refugees to live in Israel. After a controversial visit by Likud party leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in September 2000, the Palestinians launched an armed uprising. Sharon became prime minister in elections in February 2001. The PA has had full or partial control of up to 40 percent of the territory of the West Bank and 98 percent of the Palestinian population.

Presidential elections were held in January 2005 to replace Arafat, who died in November 2004. The elections, repeatedly postponed during Arafat's reign, were the first since Palestinian residents of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem chose their first popularly elected government in 1996, which formed the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Mahmoud Abbas won the 2005 contest with approximately 62 percent of the vote. International observers judged the election generally free and fair. Despite calls by radical groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad to boycott the vote, violence was largely absent during the campaign and voting.

In municipal voting in Gaza following the presidential vote, Hamas won 77 out of 118 seats in 10 districts, to Fatah's 26 seats. Hamas's popularity is due in large part to its network of clinics and schools, but its electoral gains were nonetheless regarded as a significant challenge to the PA, which, despite the passing of Arafat, was still widely viewed as corrupt. In a second round of West Bank and Gaza municipal voting in May, Fatah won most municipalities, but Hamas posted impressive gains. Each group accused the other of fraud, and Fatah gunmen shut down Gaza voter-registration offices preparing for legislative elections scheduled for July. In June, Abbas postponed those elections until at least early 2006. Abbas said that he wanted to allow more time for changes to a new election law; the Palestinian elections committee announced in May that it needed more time to bridge differences over changes to a law regulating how to allocate legislative seats.

In August and September 2005, Israel withdrew all settlers from the Gaza Strip, ending its 38-year presence in the Palestinian coastal enclave. Approximately 9,000 settlers left their homes in 21 settlements in Gaza, and the PA assumed control over all of the Gaza Strip. The removal of Israeli military checkpoints, restrictions on Palestinian road travel, and the fortifications surrounding the settlements contributed to significantly enhanced freedom of movement for Palestinians inside Gaza. However, while Israel handed over control of Gaza's southern border to the PA, Israel retained control over Gaza's airspace and coastline.

The IDF has temporarily reentered some PA-controlled territory since the onset of the second intifada in September 2000. However, armed Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas decreased markedly after Israel and the PA announced mutual ceasefires in February 2005.

The truce also resulted in a significant decrease in violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. However, violence among Palestinians continued. The PA banned the public display of weapons in Palestinian areas, but militant groups brandished their weapons with relative impunity, at times striking against Israeli targets and clashing with one another and with PA security forces. In February, Abbas fired nine senior police and security chiefs in an attempt to consolidate his control over the various Palestinian security services. The dismissals occurred after militants fired mortars at Jewish settlements. In June and July, PA troops clashed with Palestinian militants in Gaza who were preparing rocket attacks against Israel. The fighting left two dead. Militants torched a police station. Clashes resulted in the deaths of at least two civilians after Abbas declared a state of emergency in Gaza. In October, Hamas and Fatah carried out violent tit-for-tat kidnappings in Gaza in a display of deepening animosity between the two groups. The Strategic Assessments Initiative, a conflict-management group based in Washington, D.C., issued a report on the state of the Palestinian security services, calling them divided, weak, and unmotivated, especially in the absence of meaningful reform.

While Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip led to greater freedom for Palestinians, these freedoms were limited by the anarchic-like conditions that took hold in September 2005. Militants fired rockets at Israeli towns over the border, and hundreds of Palestinians ransacked former settlement areas. Chaos also reigned for several days at the border with Egypt after Israel handed over border security to the PA. Palestinians poured over the border unchecked, and many returned with smuggled contraband, including weapons. In September, in a direct challenge to Abbas and the PA, around 100 masked gunmen stormed the Gaza home of former security chief Moussa Arafat, dragging him outside and killing him execution style. The Popular Resistance Committees, made up of former Fatah members, claimed responsibility for the assassination, declaring that Arafat was corrupt. The brazen attack was widely perceived to be a direct challenge to Abbas, and it underscored the relative impunity enjoyed by gunmen in Palestinian areas.

The truce reached in February 2005 between Israel and the Palestinians increased optimism that the two sides would return to abiding by a road map to peace put forward by the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union (EU) in 2003. The multistage, performance-based plan is premised on demonstrative Palestinian action aimed at ending violence, which was to be followed by Israeli troop pullbacks and easing of curfews and travel restrictions on Palestinians. It also calls for a freeze of Israeli settlement activity once Palestinian terrorism ends. Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza represent a major sticking point in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel's withdrawals from Gaza and from four West Bank settlements were carried out unilaterally.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The PA president is elected to five-year terms. International observers judged the January 2005 presidential election to be generally free and fair. As of the end of 2005, the PLC was composed of 88 representatives. The unicameral legislative body of the PA operates as a parliament and the prime minister is nominated by the president. Competitive multi-party parliamentary elections were scheduled for early 2006. Several parties in addition to Hamas and Fatah were expected to compete. In October, Palestinian legislators passed a vote of no confidence against Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei. The motion took place after policemen invaded a legislative session in Gaza, demanding more support in confronting Hamas. As per agreements with Israel, the PLC has no real authority over borders or defense policy. Laws governing Palestinians in the occupied territories derive from Ottoman, British Mandate, Jordanian, Egyptian, and Palestinian Authority law, and Israeli military orders.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem do not have the right to vote in national elections in Israel. Arabs in East Jerusalem who hold Israeli identity cards can vote in the city's municipal elections and can also vote in PA elections.

Transparency and the consolidation of PA finances became priority issues in the wake of Arafat's death. Estimates of the amount of money Arafat deposited into private funds and offshore holdings ran into the billions of dollars. Some international aid to the PA was cut in the last days of Arafat's life over the rampant corruption under his watch. Abbas has presided over a cleanup of Palestinian finances, including instituting budget controls and ending the old system of cash handouts to political loyalists and members of security services. In July, the Group of 8 pledged $3 billion a year to the PA in development assistance. Still, according to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli think tank, "all international investment activities in Gaza are subject to the ultimate control of local warlords and terror groups." Transparency International ranked Palestine 107 out of 159 countries surveyed in its 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The media are not free in the West Bank and Gaza, and press freedom continued to suffer in 2005. Under a 1995 PA press law, journalists may be fined and jailed, and newspapers closed, for publishing "secret information" on Palestinian security forces or news that might harm national unity or incite violence. However, another press law, also signed in 1995, stipulates that Palestinian intelligence services do not reserve the right to interrogate, detain, or arrest journalists on the basis of their work. Nevertheless, several small media outlets are pressured by authorities to provide favorable coverage of the PA. Arbitrary arrests, threats, and the physical abuse of journalists critical of the PA are routine. Official Palestinian radio and television are government mouthpieces. Arafat never ratified a 1996 law passed by the PLC that guarantees freedom of expression. According to the International Telecommunications Union, as of 2004, 160,000 Palestinians had access to the internet.

The relative lawlessness in Palestinian areas also endangered journalists during the year. In August, gunmen in Gaza believed to be attached to Fatah, and upset with the PA, kidnapped a cameraman for France 3 TV, who was released about one week later. Other foreign news crews left Gaza in the wake of the abduction. In February, the PA banned Palestinian journalists from covering a summit meeting between Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt. In addition, in an apparent attempt to reduce coverage that could incite violence, Abbas ordered Palestinian television to stop airing bloody images of conflict and programs glorifying "martyrs." In a marked contrast from Arafat, Abbas also insisted that he did not want praiseworthy coverage of himself in place of violent imagery.

In March, the PA imposed restrictions on mosque preachers, a move seen as part of an effort to stem incitement against Israel and the United States. Nonetheless, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic preaching and incitement to violence were regular features of mosque prayer services and official radio and television broadcasts in 2005.

The PA generally respects freedom of religion, though no law exists protecting religious expression. The basic law declares Islam the official religion of Palestine and also states that "respect and sanctity of all other heavenly religions [that is, Judaism and Christianity] shall be maintained." The PA requires all Palestinians to be affiliated with a religion, which must be displayed on identification cards. Personal status law, which governs marriage and divorce, is based on religious law; for Muslims, it is derived from Sharia (Islamic law), and for Christians, from ecclesiastical courts. Some Palestinian Christians have experienced intimidation and harassment by radical Islamic groups and PA officials, which has led many to emigrate from traditionally Christian towns like Bethlehem. In September, hundreds of Muslim men torched houses and vehicles in a Christian village in the West Bank. Also in September, Palestinians desecrated synagogues left in former Jewish settlements in Gaza.

The PA has authority over all levels of education. Some Palestinian schools teach hatred of Israel, and some textbooks and curriculums promote Israel's destruction. IDF closures, curfews, and the West Bank security barrier restrict access to Palestinian academic institutions. Israeli authorities have at times shut universities, and schools have been damaged during military operations. Throughout the intifada, schoolchildren have periodically been injured or killed during fighting. The PA has also operated military training summer camps for children, often named for suicide bombers.

The PA requires permits for rallies and demonstrations and prohibits violence and racist sloganeering. Nevertheless, large rallies organized by radical groups are regular occurrences in Palestinian areas, often marked by violent rhetoric. There are a broad range of Palestinian nongovernmental organizations and civic groups, though many do not actively criticize the PA. The Islamist group Hamas operates a large network providing social services to certain Palestinians.

Labor affairs in the West Bank and Gaza are governed by a combination of Jordanian law and PA decisions. Workers may establish and join unions without government authorization. Palestinian workers seeking to strike must submit to arbitration by the PA Ministry of Labor. There are no laws in the PA-ruled areas to protect the rights of striking workers. Palestinian workers in Jerusalem are subject to Israeli labor law.

The Palestinian judicial system is not independent. While the PA revealed a draft constitution in April 2003, Arafat never endorsed it. Despite Abbas's consolidation of 13 security services into 3, law and order still remained elusive in 2005: property laws were not always enforced, few taxes were paid, and even traffic police were in some cases too frightened to enforce rules. Palestinian judges lack proper training and experience. Israeli demands for a Palestinian crackdown on terrorism have given rise to state security courts, which lack almost all due process rights. There are reportedly hundreds of administrative detainees currently in Palestinian jails and detention centers. The same courts are also used to try those suspected of collaborating with Israel or accused of drug trafficking. Defendants are not granted the right to appeal sentences and are often summarily tried and sentenced to death. According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, alleged collaborators are routinely tortured in Palestinian jails and are denied the right to defend themselves in court. These practices are not prohibited under Palestinian law.

In September, Abbas outlawed armed men from appearing in Gaza's streets. Before the ban took effect, Hamas Kassem rockets on display during a rally in Gaza City exploded, killing 16 people. While Hamas blamed Israel for the explosion, the PA criticized Hamas for not taking responsibility for its own actions and for needlessly endangering Palestinian civilians. After the ban was in place, however, Palestinian gunmen could still be seen brazenly carrying weapons on Gaza's streets. According to Time magazine, citing Palestinian security sources, 20,000 gunmen operate in Gaza.

Violence between Palestinians and settlers is common. Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were ambushed and killed by Palestinian gunmen. These attacks generally go unpunished by the PA. Groups of settlers have attacked Palestinians and destroyed Palestinian property (such as olive groves), often without serious legal penalties.

The intifada and Israeli closures of the Palestinian territories have exacted a serious toll on the Palestinian economy. According to the World Bank, nearly half of the Palestinian population lives below the poverty line of two dollars' income per day. In August, former World Bank president James Wolfensohn arranged the purchase and handover to Palestinians of approximately 4,000 greenhouses used by Israeli settlers in Gaza. After Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza, however, Palestinians there looted or destroyed many greenhouses.

While Palestinian women are underrepresented in most professions and encounter discrimination in employment, they do have full access to universities and to many professions. Of the 2,500 candidates who participated in Palestinian municipal elections in May 2005, 400 were women. Personal status law, derived in part from Sharia, puts women at a disadvantage in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Rape, domestic abuse, and "honor killings," in which unmarried women who are raped or who engage in premarital sex are murdered by a relative, are not uncommon. According to media reports, an average of one honor killing a week takes place in the West Bank and Gaza. These murders often go unpunished. In April, reports emerged that Hamas was operating a "vice and virtue" unit in Gaza believed responsible for the murder of a 22-year-old woman killed while walking along a Gaza beach with her fiancé. The PA said it arrested two Hamas members involved with the intimidation campaign.